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Elevate Community Conversations of Sidney reveals shocking truths about devastating "Invisible Injury"

Most people impacted are unaware

Mike Motz, Sidney Sun-Telegraph

For some years now, awareness on Brain Injuries and its causes and effects have become part of the national conversation, but for many, their understanding of the issue is focused mainly on sports concussions and their impact. However, the prevalence of Brain Injuries are much more widespread throughout the population than most realize, and often the brain injury is not recognized or diagnosed.

Elevate Community Conversations of Sidney hosted a public meeting last Thursday at the Sidney High School Performing Arts Center, featuring MenDi McCuiston of the Nebraska Brain Injury Alliance. Pastor Chad Rademacher of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church welcomed the group, which included Jamie Bright, an Extension Educator from the University of Nebraska, and SRMC Social Worker Kimberly Dreyer.

Featured speaker McCuiston, who has a daughter that suffers from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), is knowledgeable and passionate about TBI, and she started her presentation briefly explaining how brain injuries occur, showing how the brain is seated within the skull and how the brain shifts and can be injured. Many times, there is an obvious cause to a brain injury, like when McCuiston's daughter at 16 years of age suffered a head injury in an automobile accident. After being advised to monitor her daughter over the next 24 hours, no other real advice or follow up was given. Shortly thereafter, the daughter had problems handling stimuli, started acting out and rebelling. Soon enough, she was in the justice system, and it was there where her brain injury was diagnosed. After therapy and understanding the nature of her disease and the limitations it can impose, McCuiston's daughter is now a great mother with a two year old daughter of her own and, although her short term memory loss does create challenges at times, the challenges are manageable once understood.

McCuiston then explained the physiology of the brain and how it gets jostled when the head is hit. She also discussed symptoms and warning signs of brain injury. She explained that most people have had a brain injury, usually from a fall or incident when the head was struck. Most of these injuries heal within 3-to-4 weeks. But after that time period, lasting effects of brain injury can be subtle or misinterpreted by sufferers, and allowed to effect the person long term. Many people who show effects of brain injury suffered their initial blow or hit on the head many years previous.

"We've all whacked ourselves in the head hard at least once in our lives-we've all had an incident," McCuiston said.

One of the big challenges concerning brain injuries are the length of time between injury and onset of symptoms, that can disguise the cause and affect treatment. Sometimes it takes quite a bit of time to identify a brain injury, and many diagnostic tests are unable to provide definitive proof of a brain injury.

McCuiston noted that older people are a particularly high risk group for brain injuries, often because a fall that can cause a brain injury is not reported. Many elderly have been known to not realize the seriousness of a bump on the head, or are afraid to report a head injury out of fear of being institutionalized or losing their driving privileges.

McCuiston then showed the tremendous number of incarcerated people with TBI. She noted CDC studies that showed nearly 10 percent of the general prison population reported TBI, a sample of death row inmates in the U.S. Showed 100 percent had a history of severe TBI. TBI is connected with domestic abuse and female inmates convicted of violent crime were more likely to have experienced TBI. The problem gets no better in the Juvenile Justice System. According to the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, up to 72 percent of children in the Juvenile Justice System have TBI, and despite those higher rates, most facilities still do not screen for TBI, letting injured offenders go undiagnosed and untreated. Statistics show that adolescents with TBI commit more criminal offenses and have higher rates of conduct disorder and substance abuse.

The statistics correlating between TBI and homelessness are also alarming. Not only do studies show that homeless people suffer a five times higher rate of TBI than the general population, 87 percent of adults with TBI reported sustaining the TBI prior to becoming homeless. Large percentages of sufferers of mental health issues have TBI. Many did not seek medical attention after the brain injury and had no idea they were suffering from a brain injury. Studies are showing that up to 33 percent of those who suffer from a brain injury will be later diagnosed with a mental illness.

Awareness and understanding are key to dealing with TBI, especially with family members. Brain injuries will often have a pattern or set of symptoms that can be recognized, so it is important to be aware of a loved one's situation and look for cues that they may be struggling with a brain issue. There are support groups and therapists who specialize in dealing with brain injuries for both sufferer and family.

Traumatic brain injury is often called "The Invisible Injury" because although the symptoms and effects are very real, often the cause is not obvious. But as awareness and treatment grows, brain injuries can not only help be prevented, but managed far more effectively for those that suffer from a brain injury.

The Brain Injury Alliance of Nebraska can provide more information and help you locate resources on brain injuries. Contact them at


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